It’s no secret that I am an adrenaline junkie. People think this makes me uncommonly brave. While this is true *brushing fingernails on lapel*, it is easier to jump out of an airplane or whatever when you know you’re not going to be hurt.
How do I know this? My history of near-death experiences speaks for itself.
It started, actually, before I was born. My mother got hit by a car while she was five months pregnant – the impact was a direct hit to her hip. I was unscathed, naturally.
My brushes with mortality multiplied most rapidly as an adult, but there were a few memorable moments in childhood. Motorcycle wipeouts were plenty (not a scratch). I once fell through a treehouse floor, a 12-foot drop, landing flat on my back onto a tangled mess of rocks and roots (climbed back up and kept playing). Flew off a swing once, smacked my head on a boulder (after a brief period of unconsciousness, I was deemed by the doctor to be concussion-free – and I didn’t even have a bump.) I’m sure there are other times I am forgetting, but I want to get to the good stuff.
The year after I graduated from high school, my boyfriend and I were walking in the woods when he decided to pick me up and swing me around for a cinematic kiss. Imagine his surprise when he put me down and I disappeared. The ground swallowed me up, like Alice down the rabbit hole. Turns out he had put me down directly on top of an old abandoned well that had been long covered over with leaves and crap. Luckily the well was dry (ish) and only about eight feet deep. Tall boyfriend jumped in after me (once the shock wore off) and boosted me out before climbing out himself. I was fine.
Another time, I was hit by a car while crossing the street. I was so embarassed that I jumped up, scooped up the stuff I’d been carrying (which had been thrown a fair distance by the impact) and was about two blocks away by the time the driver caught up with me, panic on his face, yelling, “Wait! Are you okay???” I was. Of course.
Once, I was reaching for something at the back of a shelf at the place where I worked, not knowing that there had been an industrial coffee maker hard-wired in at one time, and when it was taken out, the wires were left live and dangling out of the wall. Electrocution hurts a bit, but is apparently not fatal. To me.
I was camping alone once in the middle of a friend’s very remote piece of land when I was stung by something and began to have an allergic reaction. I am allergic to bee stings and spider bites and am supposed to carry an epi kit. I don’t. (Because …well, you know.) I began to go into anaphylactic shock, with no drugs and the nearest hospital a half-hour away. I meditated a bit, did some deep-breathing and I was fine. Within a few minutes, not even a single hive remained. (Okay, this one isn’t all that impressive, really, but whatever.)
The closest I’ve probably come to meeting my maker was the Great Crash of ’01. I was on my way to work when a transport truck came flying around a bend in the road…in the wrong lane. That’s right. I got smacked head-on by an 18-wheeler. In my Volkswagen. How many people can say they’ve had that experience? Well, the truck pushed my car backwards along the road until the car was so mangled, it wouldn’t move any further. Then the truck compacted the car until it wouldn’t compact any further. Then the truck ran over my car (missed me by a couple of inches, naturally.)
People always ask how terrified I was during this. Um…not at all? Because I’m a superhero? I DO remember watching the hood crumple in front of me right before the windshield blew, and thinking, “Crap…they’re probably not gonna be able to fix that.” Then, “Crap…I’m going to be late for work.”
I had been wearing my glasses that day, and they flew off during the crash. Despite being nearly legally blind without them, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous white shape on the lawn of the house next to where my car had ended up. And then the crush of bodies racing toward me, screaming. Yup, you guessed it. Wedding tent. Thank god, it was just the rehearsal, not the actual wedding.
Well, I calmly undid my seatbelt and reached for the door handle (it wasn’t there), only to discover I couldn’t get out of the car. The front end of the car had been pushed against me so tightly that the dash was draped over my lap like a vacuum-sealed blanket. There wasn’t even enough room to slide a piece of paper between my seat and the dash. The steering wheel was pressed firmly against my abdomen, pinning me against the seat. Yet I was cool. I could wiggle my toes and everything. I just couldn’t get out of the car.
The first person to my car was the photographer, whose eyes were like dinner plates when he saw me. Now, having an advanced honours degree in neuroscience, even though I was not in pain and did not seem injured, I knew it was possible that I was sitting there with an eyeball hanging out of my head or something without even realizing it. So I copped a peek in the rear-view mirror (which was still bizarrely dangling from a remnant of shattered windshield). Nope, I was good. No blood, nothing.
Then someone handed me a cell phone. The 911 operator wanted to speak to me. I explained that I was fine, I just couldn’t get out of the car. The 911 operator asked to speak again to the hysterical women who had placed the call, “She sounds like she needs me more than you do.”
Then the minister arrived. (Wedding rehearsal, remember?) She looked like, well, like her time to shine had come. I felt kind of bad for ruining it for her. She said, in a tone that she had likely practiced for just such a moment, “I’m the minister here, and I’m here for you, dear.” I smiled and thanked her for her concern before dismissing her with “Thank you, but I’m fine. I just can’t get out of the car.” She backed away, making the sign of the cross. I kid you not.
Then…the coroner. That’s right. Based on the appearance of the wreckage, someone had deemed that no one could have survived, so the coroner was called. After a brief chat with me, he left to finish his golf game.
When the rescue crews arrived (2 ambulance loads of paramedics, three fire departments and a handful of cops), the medics were going all ‘What’s her BP?’ on me (it was normal, by the way), all worked up and in frantic mode. I finally looked at them and said, “Guys, could you take it down a notch? You’re stressing me out.” After a couple of stunned looks, they started calming down a bit, but were still kind of patting me on the head and saying, ‘Yes, dear’ when I told them I was wiggling my toes.
At the hospital, the doctor tore up five sets of x-rays before he was convinced I didn’t have any injuries. The nurse was sent in to ‘stitch up my boo-boos’ and after seeing that I didn’t have a scratch – literally – she, I believe, may also have backed away making the sign of the cross. (I had been strapped to a board for five hours by now. The only thing wrong with me at this point was that I really needed a pee, a snack and a cigarette, not necessarily in that order.)
The nurse returned with my clothes (I had FREAKED on the doctor when he attempted to cut them off – FREAKED ON HIM – so they had managed to wiggle me out of them around the straps and collar.) She said, “Well, I took them out back and shook out as much of the glass as I could….usually people in these sorts of accidents don’t leave in the same clothes as they arrive in…” Possibly more signs of the cross. I was pleased to see I didn’t even have a run in my pantyhose.
But one of the coolest was the most recent. Parachute malfunction. I mean, come on.
I was maybe 100 feet from the ground, coming in for my landing, when I felt that there was nothing supporting me. I looked up just in time to see my canopy collapse in on itself before I went into a spin, moving so fast that my body was nearly parallel with the ground. I had hit a thermal – a hot bubble of air rising from the nearby tarmac, which lifts the parachute as it rises, then cools off, causing the chute to drop suddenly.
The funny thing was, the night before, I had been reading fatality reports on the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association website, and so I knew that this exact scenario was precisely how about 90% of skydiving casualties occur. So I was spinning out and in the loooong seconds before I hit, I knew I was going to die and I remember thinking, “Well, at least I get to know how it happens. And as far as ways to die go, this isn’t so bad. At my high school reunion, when they ask, ‘What ever happened to Drea?’, the answer will be, ‘Oh, Drea? She died in a skydiving accident.'” I kinda liked that, actually.
Yeah, well. I hit the ground at a ridiculously high speed. On impact, I felt my entire skeleton vibrate, like a cartoon. Then I realized I was alive. ‘But I’ve broken every bone in my body’, I thought to myself. Another second, and I realized I hadn’t broken anything. I jumped up and started daisy-chaining my cords. My skydiving partner (who I was dating at the time, and who was also a medical first responder) had just been beginning a slo-mo, ‘holy fuck’ run across the airfield because he thought I was dead. I think it kind of freaked him out when I jumped up. Again, not even so much as a smudge of dirt on my jeans. I even went up for another jump that day.
Now, I do realize that writing all of this out in such a cocky manner sets me up for another one of those swift kicks in the caboose from the Universe. A risk I’m willing to take. (Because I’m a, you know, superhero.)
While I’m grateful for having been born with a horseshoe up my ass, I can’t help but wonder why. There is apparently some reason why I’m still here. Talk about pressure.
I have to go find a cure for cancer now.